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Life after Ka’Deem Carey: Who’s next at running back for Arizona?

Jared Baker is hoping to be recovered from an ACL injury by fall camp. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Baker is hoping to be recovered from an ACL injury by fall camp. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Ka’Deem Carey will be at Arizona Stadium in name only next season.

He’s not coming back for his senior year, and there’s no sense waiting to add his name to the stadium’s Ring of Fame, next to Hunley, Bruschi, Waldrop, Luppino, Cecil, McAlister …

Carey qualifies two ways to have his name adorn the facade inside the stadium — as an All-American (two-time consensus) and as a national stats leader (2012 rushing champion).

The huge question is: Who will be running in his figurative shadow on the FieldTurf below?

It likely will take a committee.

Arizona loses Carey and backup Daniel Jenkins. Jared Baker, a speedy junior-to-be, had 27 carries for 127 yards this season but suffered a torn ACL in the regular-season finale at Arizona State. Kylan Butler was a senior.

What’s left is a cast of young hopefuls who will be getting a crash course during spring and fall camps.

Let’s take a look at the top candidates:

– Pierre Cormier, redshirt freshman
5-10, 183, Madison High (San Diego)

Cormier was one of the top-rated players in Arizona’s 2013 class, earning a four-star rating from Scout.com and 247Sports. He was CalHiSports.com’s Medium Schools Player of the Year after rushing for 2,233 yards and 29 touchdowns, leading Madison to the CIF Division III state championship. He rushed for 272 yards and three scores in the title game.

“It was a little difficult for me at first during camp,” he said last month about redshirting, “but I accepted my role and kind of looked at it as this is a positive thing for me. I got to get better physically and get stronger, faster, learn the system a little better and get adjusted to the college speed.

“I thought it was a good thing for me to redshirt this year and sit back and kind of watch the best running back in the country do what he does best.”

– Zach Green, redshirt freshman
5-10, 220, St. Bonaventure (Ventura, Calif.)

Green brings more size to the Arizona backfield, so it’s easy to see him being a potential tag-team partner if the Cats aren’t going with a feature-back approach. Green, like Cormier, was selected to the CalHiSports.com all-state team following the 2012 season. The publication wrote: “He has arguably the best package of size, speed, lower body strength and agility of any back in the state.” Green was a three-star recruit who ran for 1,900 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior.

– Jonathan Haden, true freshman
5-8, 189, Friendship Collegiate Academy (Washington D.C.)

The three-star recruit is in Tucson and will start the spring semester on Wednesday. Being an early-enrollee comes at a perfect time as he can make up the slight experience edge from Cormier and Green before fall camp. Haden is a three-star recruit whose other scholarship offers included Ohio State, Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia. His brother, Joe Haden, was an All-American cornerback at Florida and the seventh pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. With his speed, he appears to be the kind of all-purpose weapon able to threaten defenses to the sidelines, in addition to handling Arizona’s zone-read plays between the tackles.

– Nick Wilson, true freshman
6-0, 191, Central East (Fresno, Calif.)

Wilson, a four-star recruit, missed two-and-a-half games early in his senior season because of a shoulder injury, but finished well, gaining 1,015 yards on 118 carries in the regular season before being limited by an ankle injury in the playoffs. He had other offers from Arizona State, Arkansas, Boise State, Cal, Fresno State, Oregon State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Washington, Washington State and Wisconsin.

He told WildcatSportsReport.com this spring that he has a similar running to Carey.

“I like to use my speed in the open field, but I love taking on defenders inside the box and playing a real physical brand of football when I’m carrying the ball,” he said.

He’ll have the most ground to make up with the playbook when he arrives this summer, but he’s physically mature enough to play as a freshman. He is rated the 17th-best running back in the country by 247Sports.

CONCLUSION: Inexperience at running back, combined with a complete reset at quarterback, is a fine way to temper expectations in 2014.

The offense could very well be a reverse of this season, when the defensive focus on Carey simplified the coverages opponents could use against Arizona and helped a young receiving corps — notably Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant and, later, Trey Griffey — gain a foothold. With the Cats stacked at receiver next season, perhaps there will new running lanes for the tailbacks as opponents worry about double-covering Austin Hill and Cayleb Jones on the outside, with Davonte’ Neal unleashed as a multiple threat from the slot.

Carey is irreplaceable, but the Wildcats should have a higher volume of weapons for head coach Rich Rodriguez, offensive coordinator/running backs coach Calvin Magee and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith, who have successfully taken this offense around the block more than a few times. The offensive line loses only starting guard Chris Putton from the two deep. This side of the ball will manage to be more than fine.

For 2014, the more pressing concerns might be on the defensive line and finding a more dynamic pool of pass rushers.

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